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This Syrian Refugee Defied ISIS Death Threats to Dance Ballet

He has been threatened by ISIS, beaten, and abandoned by his father, all because he wanted to dance.

Born and raised in a Syrian refugee camp, 27-year-old Ahmad Joudeh lives his life by one motto: “dance or die”.

Since leaving Syria, Joudeh has performed around the world with the Dutch National Ballet.

His newest work commemorates the obstacles he overcame in order to pursue his talent and spreads the message of his life motto.

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Joudeh collaborated with French singer Sanga to write and choreograph the song “Dance or Die.”

The music video depicts Joudeh’s passion for ballet and features short clips of his dancing, but he has performed longer “Dance or Die” routines for crowds in front of the Eiffel Tower and outside the Paris Opera House.

Prior to performing on the Arab version of “So You Think You Can Dance,” and before a Dutch journalist made a documentary about him, Joudeh was teaching the children of Damascus how to dance.

Joudeh has even used ballet to speak out against ISIS, who stormed his village in 2015 and threatened to kill him if he continued to dance. While still in Syria, he performed in the  Palmyra theatre, where ISIS previously held public executions.

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Despite the backlash against his art, Joudeh says dancing gives him strength, and reminds him of his worth.

“I am prepared to fight all my life for the feeling that dancing gives me. It’s a feeling of freedom,” he told The Guardian. “Being a Palestinian refugee, born in a camp, I always felt inferior to other people. But when I dance, I feel like a king.”

To Joudeh, his life is not defined by his hardships or refugee status; he is a ballet dancer, and nothing less.

"I felt when I danced for the first time this is who I am," he says. "I was born as a refugee in a camp. Now the whole world calls me the dancer. That's what I always wanted to be: the dancer."